0115 966 7955 Today's Opening Times 10:00 - 20:00 (GMT)
Place an Order
Instant price

Struggling with your work?

Get it right the first time & learn smarter today

Place an Order
Banner ad for Viper plagiarism checker

The Church In The Middle Ages History Essay

Disclaimer: This work has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional academic writers. You can view samples of our professional work here.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays.

Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

By the Late Middle Ages, Christianity had become the dominant religion of Europe. The church played an important role in the lives of the people. Despite the change in regimes, the Popes were able to maintain their sovereignty over the Papal States.

The Christian Church of the middle Ages was a defining element in medieval society. As this institution grew, it required organisation and rules. From the sixth century onwards, it began playing important roles not only in the social lives but also in the political lives of its people.


It is rather difficult to explain the rapid growth of Christianity from a small group of Jews in Jerusalem to the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. It is also ironical that the empire which was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, should take refuge in the religion founded by by him.

Jesus was born in the Roman Empire, albeit at a remote edge of the empire. The Romans under Pompey had conquered Palestine in 63 BCE and at once this small land with an ancient people became part of a mighty Empire which stretched from Scotland in the north to the Sahara in the south and from Spain in the west to Syria in the east. The rulers of Rome found Christ’s teachings to be a threat to their pagan religion and thus Jesus was crucified for blasphemy on the orders of Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Palestine under the Roman Emperor Tiberius. However the sacrifice of Jesus Christ inspired his followers to spread his teachings far and wide. This was beginning of the Christian religion which became the pivotal point of the Middle Ages.

The Taking of Jesus, a 17th century painting by the Italian painter Caravaggio housed in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.


Christianity was young and still working out its existence when the Roman Emperor Constantine took power in 306 CE. Christian doctrines at that time were muddled and inconsistent. In 325 CE, the emperor summoned the Christian clergy to attend an ecumenical council at his lake house in Nicaea, situated in modern day Iznik in Turkey. That summer, 318 bishops from across the empire attended the council. This gathering became famous as the First Council of Nicaea. Constantine was eager to end the dissent between the various sects, because, the conflicts between them would have resulted in a civil war in his otherwise peaceful kingdom. This Council accepted the divinity of Jesus Christ and set about the path to compile his teachings in a common Bible. After the Council of Nicaea, similar councils were held, in an effort to centralise Christianity.

However these councils were dominated by the clergy who represented the Byzantine Empire. In the Western Roman Empire, this religion was not yet organised. The gradual demise of the Roman Empire saw the emergence of the church as a central force. As Europe gradually started collecting the pieces of its destruction, the church became the mainstay of civilisation. It was during the pontificate of Pope Gregory I the Great (590-604), that medieval papacy began to assert its authority. Pope Gregory I protected the Roman territory from the Lombard threat and became the first Pope to act as temporal ruler of what later became the Papal States.

Pope Gregory the Great by Francisco de GoyaPope Gregory laid down the foundation of the elaborate papal machinery of the church government. The pattern of church government i.e. bishops supervised by archbishops, and archbishops by the Pope, became standard in the church. He was also the first to spread papal control outside of Italy by sending a mission of monks led by Augustine to England to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons. The task of establishing papal control and extending the Pope’s temporal authority was continued by Gregory’s successors. Papal property and authority was greatly increased by the Donation of Pepin.


Following the footsteps of Constantine, many subsequent emperors adopted Christianity, which further strengthened the status and power of the church. Although the early barbarians were Arian Christians, they too gradually embraced Roman Catholicism. Christianity continued to thrive under the Germanic kings, spreading the religion throughout Western Europe. In 508 CE, Clovis of the Franks converted to Christianity followed by his warriors and his subjects. He was followed by the Visigothic King Reccared in 589 CE.

Germanic kings used the bishops as a link between the king and the Roman citizens. The bishops grew very powerful representing the largest class of citizenry. The kings recognised this power and acknowledged it by granting the bishops political power to administer to the needs of the former Romans. The growing monasteries became centres of culture, scholarships, and economics, enabling the Germanic kings to better govern their kingdoms through these religious institutions.

The idea that the Christian God would assist Christian rulers to effectively rule their kingdom and gain victory in battles began to be developed in Western Europe. Beginning with the Carolingian kings like Pepin III and Charlemagne, Christian kingship placed the Church in a powerful position, while not actually dominating the king. Under Charlemagne, Christianity emerged as a political concept as well as a religious one. Secular law was replaced by Christian law and bishops became even more powerful than they had previously been.

Coronation of Charlemagne by the French painter Jean Fouquet


With the formal christening of the Holy Roman Empire, the Pope had become a unifying force. Supported by the papacy, the Holy Roman Empire grew more powerful. The church held this power with varying degree of success, but never losing its foothold. However in the eleventh century, the relations between the state and the church strained considerably in what became famous as the Investiture Controversy. Until this time, the Pope ratified the rule of the king who held maximum power over the population and generously donated property and money to the church. However, the kings had started feeling resentful towards bishops who claimed they had an inherent power, given by God, to anoint a ruler as the Holy Roman Emperor. Unable to see the rising dominance of the church over the state, a few medieval kings were of the view that secular authorities such as kings, counts or dukes had the legitimate authority in appointments to ecclesiastical offices such as bishops.


As the power of the royalty increased, many traditional roles of the church were assumed by the anointed kings and nobles. This included the protection and foundation of churches and abbeys. According to Christian tradition, bishops were elected by the clergy and the people of their future diocese. However, bishops and abbots came to be nominated and installed by rulers in a ceremony known as investiture. The office of the church was an important one because it commanded considerable power over the masses. Also substantial amount of wealth and land were associated with this office. Initially this practice of investiture served well as the rulers were careful in appointing spiritually qualified men to the church office. Subsequently this practice became tainted when rulers started appointing their favourite bishops and in some cases even sold the church offices in a practice known as simony! Many a times the appointed bishops were related to royal classes. This practice existed for a long time until the reign of Henry IV in Germany (1056-1106) and Pope Gregory VII (1073-85).

Relations between the Pope and the king were estranged because of the king’s continuous refusal to obey papal commands. In 1075, Pope Gregory VII asserted the power of the church of deposing kings who did not obey papal commands. In 1076, Henry IV, with the help of bishops from Germany and northern Italy, renounced their obedience to the Pope and called on the latter to abdicate. As a result, Pope Gregory deposed the king and excommunicated him and the bishops. This time around the German bishops and princes sided with the Pope. To save his throne, Henry tried to win the Pope’s forgiveness. In January 1077, Henry


There having laid aside all the belongings of royalty, wretchedly, with bare feet and clad in wool, [Henry IV] continued for three days to stand before the gate of the castle. Nor did he desist from imploring with many tears the aid and consolation of the apostolic mercy until he had moved all of those who were present there.

-Pope Gregory, in Basic Documents in Medieval Historycrossed the snowy Alps to the Italian town of Canossa. He approached the castle where Pope Gregory was a guest. The Pope later described the scene as follows:

The Pope was obligated to forgive any sinner who begged so humbly. Still, Pope Gregory kept Henry waiting in the snow for three days before ending his excommunication. When the meeting finally took place it catered only to the issue on hand. This was called the Investure Controversy.

The Investiture Controversy continued for several decades as each succeeding Pope tried to diminish imperial power by stirring up revolt in Germany. This controversy was not limited to Germany. The whole of Europe seemed to be embroiled in it. At the time of Henry IV’s death, Henry I of England too challenged the right of the papacy to interfere in imperial matters.


For over fifty years, the conflict between the two continued. Finally in September 1122, the controversy was settled during the pontificate of Calixtus II (1119-1124) when the papacy and the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V reached an agreement at Worms. According to this ‘concordat’ the emperor agreed to free elections of bishops and abbots by the clergy but he reserved the right to decide contested elections. The power and duties of the bishops were divided into two – spiritual and imperial. The elected bishop or abbot had to be first invested with the regalia, or powers, privileges and lands pertaining to him as the vassal, for which he paid homage to the sovereign. Then he was invested with the spiritualia, or ecclesiastical powers and lands, symbolised by staff and ring, which he acquired from his superior at the church. Read the declaration of both the Pope and the king which finally ended the Investiture Controversy.

Read between lines ……

Study source A and Source B carefully and try to figure-out the relation between the church and the king.

Work in pairs and find out what led to this event. Draw a flow chart to represent the information.

Do we find the same kind of situation in today’s world?


Edict of the Emperor Henry V

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity, I, Henry, by the grace of God August Emperor of the Romans, for the love of God and of the holy Roman church and of our master pope Calixtus, and for the healing of my soul, do remit to God, and to the holy apostles of God, Peter and Paul, and to the holy catholic church, all investiture through ring and staff; and do grant that in all the churches that are in my kingdom or empire there may be canonical election and free consecration. All the possessions and regalia of St. Peter which, from the beginning of this discord unto this day, whether in the time of my father or also in mine, have been abstracted, and which I hold: I restore to that same holy Roman church. As to those things, moreover, which I do not hold, I will faithfully aid in their restoration. As to the possessions also of all other churches and princes, and of all other lay and clerical persons which have been lost in that war: according to the counsel of the princes, or according to justice, I will restore the things that I hold; and of those things which I do not hold I will faithfully aid in the restoration. And I grant true peace to our master pope Calixtus, and to the holy Roman church, and to all those who are or have been on its side. And in matters where the holy Roman church shall demand aid I will grant it; and in matters concerning which it shall make complaint to me I will duly grant to it justice.


Privilege of Pope Calixtus II

I, bishop Calixtus, servant of the servants of God, do grant to thee beloved son, Henry-by the grace of God august emperor of the Romans-that the elections of the bishops and abbots of the German kingdom, who belong to the kingdom, shall take place in thy presence, without simony and without any violence; so that if any discord shall arise between the parties concerned, thou, by the counsel or judgment of the metropolitan and the co-provincials, may’st give consent and aid to the party which has the more right. The one elected, moreover, without any exaction may receive the regalia from thee through the lance, and shall do unto thee for these he rightfully should. Be he who is consecrated in the other parts of the empire (i.e. Burgundy and Italy) shall, within six months, and without any exaction, receive the regalia from thee through the lance, and shall do unto thee for these what he rightfully should. Excepting all things which are known to belong to the Roman Church. Concerning matters, however, in which thou dost make complaint to me, and dost demand aid, I according to the duty of my office, will furnish aid to thee. I give unto thee true peace, and to all who are or have been on thy side in the time of this discord.


…. If you choose the right path, you will be forgiven for all your sins. This path is to make war upon the Turk…. Let those who are going to fight for Christianity put the form of the Cross upon their garments…. God will be gracious to those who undertake this expedition: those who die will go straight to heaven…..

– Extract from call to arms by Pope Urban II at Clermont, France in 1095

During the years of the Investiture Controversy, the empire and the church had both tried to marshal public opinion by appealing to people’s spiritual and patriotic emotions. While the monarchy was embroiled in this controversy, local lordships over peasants grew, increasing serfdom and resulting in very few rights for the population.

As for the papacy, it gained strength. People turned more and more to the church not only for spiritual solace but also to solve legal and social matters. People became increasingly engaged in religious affairs. This set the stage for the Crusades.

Of all the cities in the world, the city of Jerusalem in Palestine has the most troubled past. For Jews, it is the holy site of the temples of Herod and Solomon and for Christians it is the place where their messiah, Jesus, sacrificed his life. In the seventh century CE, the city, which was under Roman rule since 63 BCE, was forcibly seized by a new faith, Islam. For Muslims, the followers of Islam, the city was the place where their prophet, Muhammed, had ascended to heaven. Four hundred years later, the Christians wanted their city back and thus the Crusades were launched with the blessing of the Church and the Pope in the eleventh century.

The Crusades began with the invasion of Muslims on Gaul in the early Middle Ages. However some historians are of the view that the political and social situation of Europe in the eleventh century Europe triggered the crusades. Deterioration of the Byzantine Empire caused by a new wave of Turkish Muslim attacks shook the very foundation of Christianity. Towards the end of the tenth century, Muslims had become a formidable force outside the European continent. Although Jews and Muslims visited Jerusalem as pilgrims, they were heavily taxed and sometimes even persecuted. One factor that may have contributed to the

Fatimid Caliphs belonged to the dynasty of Fatimids who trace their linage to Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad.Western outburst against Muslims was the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem in 1009 by Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim bi Amrallah. Although in 1039, the Byzantine Empire rebuilt the church and pilgrimage was allowed, but the damage had already been done.

Over the course of two hundred years, a series of wars raged throughout this region. The First Crusade was invoked by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in France in November 1095 after a desperate appeal made by the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Commenus to send armed knights to defend Christianity against the Muslim enemy. The Pope concluded his speech to the council with these words, “Men of God, men chosen and blessed among all, combine your forces! Take the road to the Holy Sepulchre assured of the imperishable glory that awaits you in God’s kingdom. Let each one deny himself and take the Cross!” With a shout – “God wills it” – the Assembly rose. They adopted a red cross as their emblem, and within a few hours no red material remained in the town because the knights had cut it all up into crosses to be sewn on their sleeves. About 30,000 men left Western Europe to fight in Jerusalem. Because of their emblem (crux is the Latin word for cross) they were given the name Crusaders.

From 1096 to 1270 there were eight major crusades and two children’s crusades, both in the year 1212. Only the First and Third Crusades were successful. In the long history of the Crusades, thousands of knights, soldiers, merchants, and peasants lost their lives on the march or in battle.

Did you know?

First Crusade 1095 – 1099- was also known as the Peoples’ or Peasants’ crusade. Was joined by the Princes’ crusade.

Second Crusade 1147-1149

Third Crusade 1187-1192

Fourth Crusade 1202-1204

Albigensian Crusade- was against the heretical Cathars in Occitania (in modern day France).

Children’s Crusade of 1212- was a crusade by a bansd of young children under the age of 15 who amrched up to the Mediterranean ports believeing that the Sea would dry up leading them to the Holy land.

Fifth Crusade 1217-1221- Led to the establishment of the Fransican Custody of the Holy Land. Pleased with the efforts St. Francis of Assissi to initiate a dialogue between the Christians and Muslims, the Fransicans made the official custodians of the Holy Places of the Catholic Church.

Sixth Crusade 1228-1229- Fredrick II gains control Jerusalem and crowns himself king of Jerusalem.

Seventh Crusade 1248-1254- The Knight Templars fight for the cause of the Church as Jerusalem was recaptured by the Muslims in 1244.

Even the Eighth Crusade 1270 and the last Ninth Crusade 1271-1272 failed to liberate the Holy land from the Muslims until World War I. However earlier the fall of Antioch, Tripoli and Acre marked the end of Christian rule.


The Crusades failed in their main objective, but they brought about several significant changes in Medieval Europe.

The crusaders learnt the use of gunpowder and guns from the Muslims. These two discoveries contributed to the decline of feudalism. The armoured knights had outlived their usefulness and their services were no longer required.

Europe re-established direct trade contacts with other parts of the world. The crusaders got a taste of the luxurious lifestyle of the East. To meet the demand for luxury items, European traders began to establish trade links with the East. As trade increased, the economy of Europe flourished.

Many new towns and cities were established. The traders and manufacturers demanded better law and order. They paid taxes to the king and helped him to raise a large army. This led to an increase in the authority of the king and a decline of the power of the feudal lords.

In the course of their travels to the holy land, the crusaders came in contact with the civilisations and cultures. They assimilated the best elements of these cultures and started the process of the revival of Western education and learning and paved the way for the Renaissance.

The utter failure of the Crusades and futility led to the emergence of new leaders and ideas that started questioning the authority of religion. This was the beginning of Reformation.

Important Dates to Remember

306 CE: Constantine becomes the Roman Emperor

325 CE: the First Council of Nicaea

390 CE: Gregory I becomes the Pope

508 CE: Clovis converts to Christianity

11th CE and 12th CE: Investiture Controversy

1122 CE: The Concordat of Worms signed between Calixtus II the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V

Use your Grey Cells…


Was the Concordat of Worms a fair compromise for both the Church and the emperor? Why?

Why did the German kings fail to unite the empire?

Do you think the Crusades were necessary to regain the lost glory of Christendom?


Discuss the Investure Controversy in detail?

What was the purpose of the Council of Nicea?

Describe the Donation of Pepin?


List the significant dates and events for the Roman Catholic Church:

As you have studied about the relation between the Church and European rulers, note the causes and outcomes of each action listed in the chart.




Constantine calls for the Council of Nicaea

Emperors like Pepin, Charlemagne donate liberally to the Church, including land.

Pope Gregory bans lay Investiture.

Henry IV travels to Canossa.

The Concordat of Worms is arranged.


Assess the Edict of Emperor Henry V given in the textbook.


Causes of the Crusades

Research causes of the Crusades using print and online resources provided by your teacher. Record at least three significant details about the causes of the Crusades on the graphic organizer below. For example, in the “Influence of the Popes” section, you may record information such as “Pope Urban II started the First Crusade (1096-99).


Influence of the Popes

Conditions in Medieval Society

Religious Beliefs

Holy Land Leaders

Economic Problems

European Leaders

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Request Removal

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have the essay published on the UK Essays website then please click on the link below to request removal:

More from UK Essays